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Archive for the month “January, 2014”

This Was Their Life!

It is very hard for a boxer to go out a winner. The lure of the ring with all of the fame it casts usually makes them try one more time. Although Joe Louis held the Heavyweight title longer than anyone in history and retired with it he ended up making a comeback and his last fight saw him knocked out helpless under the ropes. Muhammad Ali had a similar fate. He was the only Heavyweight to win the title three times! After the third time he retired only to be lured back into the ring. He ended up losing his last two fights finally admitting that he didn’t have it anymore.  Sadly a little bit of luster from their boxing greatness is lost when we remember how their careers ended.

Joe Louis losing fight

Joe Louis losing last fight

As happens sometimes I awoke in the middle of the night and watched an old show from 1979 or 1980 called “This is Your Life”, where they were doing the life of Muhammad Ali. Ali’s life is well documented but it was very interesting still! They brought his wife, mom, dad, and brother in and they all told tales about him. They brought the two guys that gave him his first start in boxing and even brought in his first boxing opponent as a kid. His childhood friend Jimmy Ellis appeared. Jimmy also had dreams of being the Heavyweight Champion. They both were very successful in boxing and Ali was thrilled to see Jimmy again on that day! One by one guests showed up to tell their stories about the champ. The man from Poland who Ali (then Cassius Clay) beat in the Olympics, his trainer Angelo Dundee, his tough opponent from England Henry Cooper and the guests kept coming! A friend and confidant Drew Bundini Brown appeared and told the story about how he made up the phrase for Ali “floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee!” Ali was visibly moved as guests on that show always were, when their life passed before them onstage! One of the last guests was Ali’s biggest rival Joe Frazier. Although during their careers it was clear they didn’t like each other all of that was different now. They both embraced and Joe told a very funny story about meeting Ali in 1970 when Joe had the title after Ali had been stripped of it. Ali always the attention getter announced to everyone the fact that Joe and him were together that day. Frazier in a very good Ali voice recreated the moment and it was hilarious!
A show like “This Is Your Life’ works for a world figure like Muhammad Ali, but wouldn’t work for most of us. It’s only because they are famous and people are interested in knowing more about them that the show was successful. Although nobody would care about the details of my life on a show like that, when watching it’s easy to ask what if? What if that show was about me? Who would be the surprise guests telling stories? Would I be moved and what conclusions would be made?
Thomas and Marilyn Wolma from Grand Rapids, MI were ordinary people like most of us. They didn’t have a show like “This Is Your Life” looking their way. Thomas was a retired Government Engineer and Marilyn taught in the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Bernice Wisnieski, a fellow teacher, described what Marilyn was like. “She was always the first one there when you needed something!” Marilyn’s sister in Wisconsin needed them this past week. She was recovering from surgery and Thomas and Marilyn made the trip to help out. Thursday afternoon at about 3 pm disaster struck. On their way home from Wisconsin on I-94 near the Michigan border traffic was moving well. Then unexpectedly a whiteout occurred. Apparently a Semi-Truck jackknifed and there was a massive pileup. Over forty vehicles collided with over half of them being trucks. Thomas and Marilyn were killed. (click below for video)
Tragic Pileup
whiteout wreck
After watching the old “This Is Your Life”, about a famous person, how ironic that I would learn about Thomas and Marilyn’s story!  Back to back I watched one person whose life is on the worlds radar all of the time and two people who lived under the worlds radar. One person who the world knows and two who were known only to friends and family. There will be many stories told about Thomas and Marilyn recapping their lives in the days ahead.  The stories will be told from the hearts of people that were touched by their love.   They won’t be physically present as Ali was in the “This Is Your Life” program, but the love they shared will be revealed just the same! Friends and family will hear the stories instead of a national TV audience.  Julie Schafly, a friend and neighbor summed up what will be spoken in many different ways when she said “what comes to mind first when I think of Tom and Marilyn Wolma is that they loved Jesus with all of their heart and that was first and foremost for them!”  Before this morning I knew a lot about Muhammad Ali’s life but I had never heard of Thomas and Marilyn.  After hearing Julie’s tribute I know that Thomas and Marilyn will be missed dearly by all that they helped on life’s road!  By staying the course in their Christian walk many were blessed and their legacy will continue to shine!  There will be an abundance of tears shed for now, but in time the tears will turn to smiles as Thomas and Marilyn are glowingly remembered for going out winners!

Laughing From The Floor!

Many years ago I had a job that one of the responsibilities each semester was mailing out the hundreds of refund checks to students. It was a massive job as back then I had to hand stuff every check. The students were always in a hurry to get their checks so they would have money to spend. We tried our best not to tell them when the checks arrived so that we would not be delayed in mailing them out. Sometimes a student would find out and come by the office to pick their check up. When they did I’d have to search the checks to find their individual one. This particular day a student got wind of the fact that I had the checks. He walked up to my window and demanded his check. The checks were all on my desk and there were hundreds of them. I took his name down and started my search. I decided to sit in my chair as it might take awhile. As I was attempting to sit down I must have kicked the chair just slightly. I ended up missing the chair and landed right on my bottom on the floor! The student determined to get his check showed no emotion. He didn’t laugh or ask me if I was hurt or anything. He just stood there patiently, probably wishing I would hurry up and get his check and quit sitting on the floor. Well the story goes that I picked myself up and carefully sat in my chair and searched for his check one by one until I found it. He signed a form and took his check and that was the end of the story. Well as far as that student was concerned it was. My co-workers were concerned and asked me if I was alright. When I said I was one of them started laughing. All of the sudden they explained that they looked up only to see me disappear behind the desk. We all got a good laugh out of the situation and we got a laugh out of the students reaction too. It was amazing that he stood there with a straight face as though my falling to the floor was normal procedure.

I know from experience that there are times that life hits us so hard in the stomach that it is impossible to laugh. It is in these times that we definitely need support from caring people to get us back on our feet again. However there are also punches life gives us that if we can find a way to laugh it is very helpful to the situation. Let’s face it, there are times when we are our worst enemy. We linger in our bad fortune and hope the world cares. We make a bad situation worse because we can’t laugh about it and move on. Laughing at ourselves can be very hard, especially in bad circumstances, but it can be the remedy to getting us off of the floor.
Where's The Beef!
We see it on TV and radio advertisements all of the time. They are trying to make us laugh. Sometimes I do laugh at the advertisements because they are cute and funny! Other times I just shake my head because to me it is more on the stupid side. Years ago Wendy’s came up with an ad called “Where’s The Beef?” where three older ladies went to a competing fast food place and ordered their hamburgers. When they received them and the bun was lifted a very small burger was hidden in there. The discovery prompted one of them to turn to the worker and yell out “Where’s the Beef?” It was funny and the campaign really lifted Wendy’s in the fast food world! People like to laugh and they like to be around people who make them laugh because it feels good. There are so many problems in life that to be constantly dragged down drains a persons energy. Laughter seems to refill our energy and gives us a good feeling!

I guess the reason we have a hard time laughing at ourselves is that we don’t want to be embarrassed. I guess it is almost like swimming though. The more we embrace it the more we are able to stay afloat. Let’s say someone finds out about an embarrassing thing that happened to us. It is our reaction that makes a difference. If we laugh about it and make someone else laugh their ammunition is suddenly gone. The appeal that people have of telling someone else and casting us in a bad light has diminished. After all we are laughing about the incident!

Let’s face it news is everywhere and word of mouth gets it quickly around. If we are going through a tough time one person will tell another until it seems the whole world knows. Yet if we can have the positive laughing attitude about a trial it turns a different light on the situation. Instead of sorrow or disrespect there comes a feeling of admiration. People start saying things like “I don’t know how that person can laugh with all of the problems they are going through!” Instead of one person spreading the word of a message of doom to another it becomes a message of hope! Our attitudes and the ability to laugh at ourselves goes a long way in determining how people talk about us!

My son and I were going out to eat a couple of weeks ago and it was very cold. I grabbed a coat I hadn’t worn for a long time because it seemed to be just a little warmer. When we got to the restaurant I discovered I was in an awful situation. That warm coat I had on wouldn’t come off. The zipper was stuck and I pulled and pulled and it just stayed stuck. I told my son about it as the restaurant was very warm. He came over and thought that if he pulled the zipper up and got it moving it would then slide down. Well He was successful moving it up but then it stuck in it’s new place. Now I’m sitting there with the coat all the way up over my neck and I’m getting hotter. Not only am I sweating from the coat, but also from the struggle I’m having as I’m working myself up trying to get free. The waitress tried to help my situation and went in the back to find some scissors. She couldn’t find any and came back with a knife. She was attempting to cut the zipper, but as she had the sharp point of the knife next to my throat I decided that maybe going to the restroom and attempting it myself would be safer! At least I would be in control of the cutting! Finally I was able to cut the coat off, come back and enjoy my meal! I threw the coat away when we got home, but I didn’t throw away the memory. I had escaped the nightmare of a coat doing it’s job only too well and a potential knife to the throat! We all go through a variety of things in life and if this story made you laugh it was worth my suffering!
Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote the famous words in a poem many years ago “laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone.” These lines are so often portrayed in their negative connotation. I’d like to concentrate on the first part. If we learn to laugh at ourselves and our situation we in turn get the support of the world. You might think that this is a small thing, but it is very huge. By giving people a reason for hope and a reason to laugh they in turn rally to our side in the bad times. They spread the word of our legacy and our attitude over and over!

Sometimes I can think of the best lines after a situation is over! If I could relive that floor moment here is how it would go. After missing the chair and finding myself on the floor nothing would have changed. I would have got up like I did and found his check. When I was handing him his check I would have said “you know I did a thorough search for your check, checking both the floor and the box and I can happily report that I found it!” That correction would not have changed the students actions but maybe you will remember my story better when you find yourself on the floor!

Amazing Grace!

John Madden had a story about Pat Summerall the gifted play by play announcer who passed away this last year. Madden, who worked side by side with Pat had accidentally sat on Pats headset while Pat was away. When Pat came back with seconds left before he was to go back on the air they scrambled to find it. Madden uncovered the set which was twisted with the ear piece facing out on one of the sides (a complete mess.) Summerall quickly and calmly took the hand off untwisted the headset put it on his head and without missing a beat said “First and ten, ball on the twenty.” That little story in itself describes why Pat Summerall was considered the best play by play man on the air! He had a way of keeping calm and relaxed even when the pressure was enormous. While he was calm and collected in his working environment for many years his personal life was the complete opposite as it spiraled completely out of control.
Pat was born with a club foot to parents who split up before he was born. He was almost put up for adoption and ended up living with an aunt. An operation was performed on his foot but doctors were pessimistic. His family was told that he would never be able to run and play and just maybe he would be able to walk, maybe. Miraculously his foot healed better than anyone expected! Pat came away with the attitude that “I’ll show them” as he found his identity in athletics. He said that “as long as there was a ball involved he was happy!” He starred in every sport he tried and ended up with a football scholarship from Arkansas University where he majored in Russian History. Summerall spent ten years as a professional football player in the National Football League, primarily as a placekicker. The Detroit Lions drafted him as a fourth-round draft choice in the 1952 NFL Draft. Summerall played the preseason with the Lions before breaking his arm, which ended the year for him. After that season, he was traded and went on to play for the Chicago Cardinals from 1953 to 1957 and the New York Giants from 1958 to 1961, during which he was a part of The Greatest Game Ever Played. His best professional year statistically was 1959, when he scored 90 points on 30-for-30 extra-point kicking and 20-for-29 field goal kicking. It’s been said that the 1958 sudden death game against the Colts was the game that made the NFL what it is today! It was called “The Greatest Game Ever Played!” The Giants would not have been in that game had it not been for Pat! With time running down and his Giants tied with the Cleveland Browns 10-10 in a swirling wind the Giants sent Pat out to attempt a 49 yard field goal. Had he missed the Browns would have been the Eastern Conference Champion. Pat made that field goal which was a long shot at that time! That created a tie in the Eastern Conference standings which the Giants broke the following week by beating the Browns again.
Obit Summerall_Mill (2)
One day while with the Giants Pat happened to be in the room when his roommate Charley Connerly (the Giants Quarterback) was not. There was a call from one of the radio stations wanting Charley to audition for a radio station in New York City for the morning sports show. Pat ended up auditioning and won the part! Before that time Pat never knew what he was going to do once his football career ended. He found that he liked broadcasting and he had a natural talent for it!

After his playing career ended Pat went into broadcasting full time. At first he was a color commentator for NFL games. He later hosted a show called “This Week In The NFL” which recapped all of the games played the past week. After that they moved him to a play by play announcer and teamed him with Tom Brookshire another ex player. They were the top team on CBS with Pat doing the broadcasts in his calm way and Tom adding color insights! Their team was a huge success as they brought a fresh understanding to the game while keeping it entertaining! Brookshire liked to do funny skits with him being the unusual personality and Summerall playing the straight man. Summerall was sure of himself and was comfortable letting Brookshire get the laughs. That trait would serve him well when he would later team with John Madden. Unfortunately Brookshire and Summerall not only had fun on the air but off the air too. They became drinking buddies and that was how they spent a lot of their off air time. From 1974 til 1981 they worked together in harmony both in and out of the broadcasting booth. The Super Bowl of 1980 was not one of their best broadcasts. It made CBS executives think about breaking up the team that was so good to them, because they were destroying themselves. Summerall concluded a few years ago that “if they had kept us together we would both be dead.”

CBS could see that John Madden had the potential to be a new future star in the broadcasting booth. They determined that he would be the new color analyst. The question they had was whether to keep Summerall or replace him with veteran baseball announcer Vin Scully? They decided to divide the games in half with Summerall and Scully working an equal amount. After the season they would decide which team worked the best. It was decided after the experiment that Pat would team with Madden as the number one team on CBS.
Summerall & Madden
Pat and John worked great as a team! John would get crazy sometimes in his analyzing and although it was funny and entertaining it was Pats job to reign it all in and make the game sensible again. He did it in such a calm way that the broadcast never missed a beat. Pat again was very comfortable playing the straight man to Madden’s madness. He knew what his job was and was natural at doing it as he was at ease with who he was. Everyone wanted to watch their game every week and Maddens name was used for a new football video game that has been updated yearly ever since! Still Pat had a hidden problem that few people knew about. It got so bad that he started his day drinking and ended it drinking too. He had become a full fledged alcoholic.

Family and friends saw the damage Pat was doing to himself. In 1992 they had Tom Brookshire intervene and invite him to a meeting. It turned out that the meeting was a group urging Pat to get himself checked into the Betty Ford Hospital. Pat was hurt and against the idea and explained that he had other plans he had to take care of relating to his work. Pat was brought to tears as his daughter said in a letter that she was ashamed to have the same last name as Pat because of his addiction. A CBS director advised Pat that if he didn’t get help he wouldn’t have a job. It was then that Pat realized that he was at a crossroads.
“The intervention really opened my eyes about what life is all about, who was accountable and who wasn’t,” recounts Summerall, in an interview with
“Where the advice or the message or wherever the consideration, the choices that I made, who told me what was right and who told me what was wrong; I finally discovered that there was a higher power.”

“When I was at the Betty Ford Clinic there were two books you could read,” remembers Summerall. “One was the Holy Bible and the other was Alcoholic Anonymous Bible – every chapter is about a drunk in the AA Bible. So, I started reading the Holy Bible, beginning with Genesis. The more I read, the more inquisitive I got, and the more I wanted to know about the Bible and what it was all about. It gave my conscious information about making the right choice. And when I got out I never had a craving. I have never had another desire to have another drink.”

Life was changing for Pat Summerall. He still had a lot of unanswered question but felt he was headed in the right direction. Eventually, through the aid of his wife’s pastor, Summerall found Christ and requested to be baptized at the age of 64.

“It was such a magnificent feeling,” smiles Summerall. “After the baptism I felt so clean I knew what people were talking about when they talk about being born again. I had that feeling. I had a feeling of peace. I felt smarter, lighter, quicker; it was a feeling like I’ve never had before.”

In recent years Summerall has battled not with drinking but with a near death experience instead. Heavy alcohol abuse over the years had damaged his liver beyond repair. Complicating matters, due to his age and public notoriety, medical officials feared it would be difficult to find him a suitable donor for a transplant. That donor came with just 18 hours to spare.

For the rest of his life Pat was eager to tell his story to all that would listen! He lived for the times when he could help others to get out of the place he was in. One person that he had met many times for talks was Michael Irving the former star of the Dallas Cowboys. Irving wanted to get into broadcasting and Pat was able to convince his superiors that Michael Irving had changed his ways. Michael has been very successful on the NFL Network and credits Pat for giving him the opportunity!

Pat was also the voice of tennis and golf on CBS. His friendly, calm, relaxed style was very comfortable for his viewers! He covered major events each year such as the US Tennis Open and the Masters Golf Tournament. He also covered 27 Super Bowls for CBS and later Fox. His broadcasting career led him to many big moments in the sports world, however he told anyone who listened that the biggest event he had experienced was meeting Jesus Christ as his personal savior!
summerall mansion
Unfortunately Pat’s years of drinking had an adverse effect on his first marriage. Pat’s second wife was a wonderful Christian lady Cheri and they moved into a house in Southlake Texas. Pat wanted to give the house a name and chose “Amazing Grace.” Pat and Cheri loved that house and on the gate for all to see was the words “Amazing Grace.” He loved the fact that when they were coming home they would always see the sign and it would remind them of the miracle that happened in Pats life! Like the time that Madden handed him the headset needing repair, Pat had handed Jesus his broken life. Amazingly his life was never the same!

In April of 2013 Pat went to a hospital in Dallas for surgery on a broken hip. He came through the surgery in good shape and anxiously looked forward to going back to Amazing Grace in a few days. A blood clot developed that took Pat’s life. His wife summed it up best when she said “we thought Pat would be coming home to amazing grace soon. We just didn’t know that it was that amazing grace he was going to.”

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